In the wake of recent events on the Farmcollie list concerning the rescuing of Scout and Bonnie from an animal shelter in Klamath Falls Oregon and the subsequent castration of Scout I feel impelled to defend a breed of dogs and along the way perhaps work towards a definition of that breed. (View the Farmcollie Archives in question, you may have to login first)
In the midst of the discussion, Scout, a beautiful dog inbred on Sojourner’s Jacob, a dog who is mostly McDuffie OTFS with some Rough Collie, was referred to as a “farm collie”, this was mostly because there was no good name for what he was other than OTFS and that name sometimes ruffles the feathers of the English Shepherd crowd. These same, (the English Shepherd fanciers), proceeded to call him a “mixed breed dog” and a “crossbred dog”, which is a nice way of saying mutt. It seems to me it would be a good time to review a little history, and what better place to review the modern history of the scotch collie than on this website which has more scotch collie history than any other.
In the farm collie world today the waters are pretty muddy, there are Old Time Farm Shepherds, English Shepherds, Old Fashioned Farm Collies, just plain Farm Collies also Scotch Collies and Rough Collies, to say it can be confusing is an understatement, even to those familiar with all of these names it can be a bit overwhelming. But let’s turn back the clock a bit, one-hundred years ago the Scotch Collie was all the rage in America, people in cities wanted them because they were fashionable, royalty owned them, dog showmen showed them, and farmers used them for various tasks around the farm. At that time they were being imported from Britain just as fast as they could, I have many old classified ads from the time advertising imported scotch collies as proof. At that time these were all considered one breed, the show people, the city pet owners and the farmers and ranchers all had Scotch Collies, and, for the most part they all had some degree of working ability. As time went on, through the artificial constraints of the show ring, the city dogs began to lose a lot of what had made them great in the first place, their intelligence (termed sagacity in many of the old writings) and their herding instinct, these traits were preserved in the Scotch Collies remaining on farms. J. E. Dougherty, writing in 1908 stated:
I have been a breeder for many years, and in that time have trained a great many collies, in fact, I try to train a number each year. Go back to the days of old Dublin Scott, Champion Christopher, Scottilla, Strephon, etc., and some of the Ashwin dogs. Nearly all the puppies from these dogs proved to be good workers, in fact, I would say not less than fifty per cent of the puppies in those days proved to be intelligent and had the working instinct. As time went on we found them less susceptible to training, in trying to follow the fashion of long heads, and breeding to the winners, our puppies grew less intelligent, until at the present time we find that we do well to get one in ten worth the trouble of training, and the fact is, the “heeling” quality found in the old time collie has gradually disappeared, and not over ten per cent of the puppies now “fashionably” bred have that trait, and let me say to the public, a puppy that will heel properly is worth a dozen that have not that quality.
An article published in World Today in 1908 had this to say about the split between show collies and working collies.
The showmen have been breeding a head of peculiar shape, and this, with a few other obvious parts, which contribute to the new type, makes the modern collie. His obscure type parts that are of practical importance get scant recognition from the collie judge. The intelligent collie of other days will soon be in a separate group. The show collie will form another variety, useful only as a show dog.
At the same time that the Scotch Collie was so popular in America, it’s lesser known cousin was busy earning its keep and the respect of its owners, the English Shepherd, who had probably come to America from England with some of the first colonists, wasn’t as flashy looking as his Scotch counterpart but could definitely hold his own around the farm. You see, the various people of the British Islands each had their own breed of herding dogs, today the English Shepherd is virtually unknown in urbanized England while its cousin the Welsh Sheepdog is struggling to make a comeback in the western part of that island. Although they were never very popular outside of the farm, many references to these English Shepherds, not to be confused with the Old English Sheepdog, can be found in British and American literature from the nineteenth century. The British book The Illustrated Natural History By John George Wood, 1865 says
The Scotch Sheep-dog, more familiarly called the Colley, is not unlike the English Sheep-dog in character, though it rather differs from that animal in form. It is sharp of nose, bright and mild of eye, and most sagacious of aspect. Its body is heavily covered with long and woolly hair, which stands boldly out from its body, and forms a most effectual screen against the heat of the blazing sun, or the cold, sleety blasts of the winter winds. The tail is exceedingly bushy, and curves upwards towards the end, so as to carry the long hairs free from the ground. The colour of the fur is always dark, and is sometimes variegated with a very little white. The most approved tint is black and tan; but it sometimes happens that the entire coat is of one of these colours, and in that case the Dog is not so highly valued. The ” dew-claws ” of the English and Scotch Sheep-dogs are generally double, and are not attached to the bone, as is the case with the other claws.
This shows that there has always been a differentiation between these two closely related breeds. The difference in form between these two breeds is probably due to Scotland receiving more influence and immigration from Norse peoples and therefore the Scottish dogs had a larger infusion of herding Spitzes. There was no doubt a long history of interbreeding between the Scotch and English Shepherds, and no doubt the Welsh as well. Likewise in America there has been considerable interbreeding between these canine cousins, yet they remained distinct as is apparent from the following excerpt from The Hunter-Trader-Trapper of 1910.
Some person wants to know the difference between the shepherd and the Scotch collie dog and, being a breeder, I think I can give the information. They are distinct breeds of dogs. The collie Is Imported from England… Its color Is sable and white and black and white and some are pure white. They are not as good hunters as the shepherd dog. The shepherd is one of the oldest breeds of dogs In the world and nobody knows how they originated. They are more scrappy than the collie and some of them make good coon dogs. They vary in size and color, some are black, some black and white or black and tan, some with yellow legs, etc. Some of them have straight hair and some are curly.
When registered dogs became more popular, the Scotch Collies found on farms around the country suffered. In many cases they were replaced by AKC registered Rough Collies (which no-doubt led to disappointment in many cases), in this way the old Scotch Collie suffered severely as the old working lines were replaced by champion pedigreed lines that had already had the brains bred out of them. The English Shepherd, because it was never a show dog, largely avoided this catastrophe and kept its working ability, although remaining less well known.
Around this time (1930s and 1940s) the English Shepherd began to be registered. Where did this leave the remaining Scotch Shepherds or working Scotch Collies? The AKC would not have them with their rigid standards based on show qualities, so many of them began to be registered as English Shepherds as they looked similar and the English Shepherd standard was sufficiently broad to allow the Scotch dogs in. This was good for both breeds as it added more dogs to the small English Shepherd population and it gave the Scotch Shepherds some legitimacy in a world that defined a dog’s worth by its pedigree.
By the 1980s, decades of neglect and genetic erosion had decimated the working Scotch Collie population on both sides of the Atlantic, a few remote unregistered pockets of these dogs existed, like the dogs J. Richard McDuffie found in Tennessee. Mr. McDuffie realized that these dogs were in essence the old Scotch Collies, but he couldn’t call them that since that name had developed other implications. The following was written to the Farmcollie list in 2002:
Old Shep is from a line of Scotch Collies (what Erika DuBois and Mr. McDuffie and I call them) that were bred by one family for over 100 years… Mr. McDuffie stopped using the term Scotch Collie to refer to these dogs as he found that too many people confused this term with dogs that showed clear sighthound heritage. He began to refer to them as OTFS.
Mr. McDuffie recognized that these dogs were different from English Shepherds, their heritage was more Scottish than English, they showed the characteristics of the Scotch Collie which had differentiated them from their English cousins for centuries. As George Wood said in 1865 “the Colley, is not unlike the English Sheep-dog in character, though it rather differs from that animal in form”. In trying to breed these working Scotch Collies, these Scotch Shepherds, back from the brink, they have been bred with registered English Shepherds of more obvious Scotch heritage as well as select Rough Collies who show working ability, and why not? If the English Shepherd breed can borrow from the Scotch Shepherd gene-pool by registering OTFS dogs and working Scotch Collies, then the reverse is also fair, after all these two breeds have mixed for centuries.
So to summarize; accusations that we are not dealing with a breed here are just not true, we are dealing with an ancient and rare breed, a breed that was very common one-hundred years ago and has since taken a beating at the hands of fashion. We are trying to restore the working Scotch Collies, it is a desperate situation but I believe this battle is not lost, we can take back genetic material from various sources where it has gone in past decades, from select Rough Collies with working ability, from English Shepherds of obvious Scotch ancestry, and from remaining pockets of working Scotch Collie like McDuffies OTFS. The one thing we need in order to avoid the name calling (crossbred dogs) and disrespecting within the farm collie community is to establish the validity of these dogs as a breed, we need a consistent name and we need a place to track pedigrees. The names “old fashioned farm collie”, “old time farm shepherd” and to a lesser extent “farm collie” all refer to the same breed, the old working Scotch Collies, to avoid the confusion and present a consistent message we should choose a name and stick to its use. “Scotch Shepherd” is good because it has historical precedence and it points out the Scottish heritage, differentiates them from English Shepherds, and highlights their working, or shepherding, ability, however, the word “shepherd” in dogs often conjures images of German Shepherds in people’s minds, not collies. The term “farm collie” on the other hand should be avoided because it only adds to the confusion, depending on the definition you choose to use, the term “farm collie” can encompass just about any kind of old fashioned or working collie type dog, even Border Collies can rightly be called farm collies, I have favored this term in the past but now I feel that the ambiguity only adds to the confusion surrounding this breed. [Read more about naming this breed here]
May we who breed and fancy this breed of dog, the old Scotch Collie, the Old Time Farm Shepherd, the Old Fashioned Farm Collie, the Scotch Shepherd, keep working towards increasing and promoting our breed. We should be proud to say that, yes, ours is a breed and not a type, ours are not some cross-bred mongrels, but the remnant of an ancient dog breed, a breed much more endangered and fragile than the English Shepherds, but a breed nonetheless.